Given this summer’s movie release and the mounting questions as to why there is yet another zombie film, I felt the attraction to the story which spawned it. I’ll admit, given the previews of the movie I wasn’t expecting to find any new angle to the zombie genre, thinking the book parried off the whole “28 Days Later/Zombieland/Walking Dead” story arc. The world is empty, it was a virus, only a few survivors who have to constantly betray each other in order to survive…blah, blah, blah…you know what I mean. It’s always the same campy crap with an added comedic flare or senseless drama.
With World War Z however, I was wrong. Though it was written back in 2006, it stands as the pinnacle arc, a separation from the horror/camp genre that usually accompanies zombie thrillers. It’s different, and because of that difference, it’s quite literally the best zombie story I have ever read and the only story of that genre that truly scared me.
First, World War Z is an oral history of the zombie war. There are no action scenes in the book aside for the memories which are being recounted by those being interviewed. Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’ son) patterned the story after Stud Terkel’s, The Good War and Tim O’Brien’s, The Things they Carried. The narrative consists of a series of interviews, from a doctor in China who witnessed the beginning of the outbreak, to an Army soldier who served throughout the war against the “undead”.
Second, it’s “practical”. What do I mean, you ask? Consider this, what set Batman Begins apart from every other film about the Dark Knight? Besides the obvious answers that it didn’t suck like the rest, the difference can be summarized in a word, realism. You, the viewer, were shown a world that was not far from our own, with gadgets, fighting skills and other qualities that made you think everything you were seeing was possible. With World War Z, the outbreak, the panic, our military response, retreat, and eventual offensive is set in reality. If you have trouble believing such a thing, listen to the audio version of the Battle of Yonkers (the interviewee, Todd Wainio, is voiced by Mark Hamill).
With every story, there is a moment that captures the reader and propels them forward. For me, it was three things: the narrative, and the interviews of Jurgen Warbrunn and Tomonaga Ijiro. Since I already yakked about the narrative, I’ll get right to the characters.
Jurgen Warbrunn is a member of Mossad and one of the first to take the outbreak of “homicidal berserkers” seriously. He was also one of the authors in the Warbrunn-Knight plan which was presented to the U.N. in the early stages. Since the Yom Kippur war in 1973 Israel developed the habit of taking every threat seriously (imagine that), and given the growing threat that was coming out of the East there was seriously consideration given to developing preventative measures associated with containment. After being laughed at by almost everyone in the world, Israel went ahead with the plan anyway, and built a literal wall around a smaller portion of the country, inviting people of all faiths to seek refuge (insert Wailing Wall joke here). Muslims (one of whom was interviewed) believed this to be part of a “Zionist” plot and were militant about the idea until the zombies started to come, then all of a sudden started fleeing into the “safe zone”…go figure.
Tomonaga Ijiro is a blind Japanese gardener who lived almost his entire life in shame. Blinded by one of the atomic bombs in WW2, Ijiro becomes “hibakusha”, an outcast member of the group tainted by the atomic blast. Being the good Japanese guy that he is, he doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone and resorts to begging, finally finding work as a gardener for a park (and then a hotel). While working in the park he learns the location of every tree, bush, and rock which, as we all know, is always a prelude to a Japanese character doing something badass. The outbreak spreads and he leaves his current job at the hotel to go back to the park so he can die. His dreams come true one day when a bear approaches him and he believes that the gods are going to kill him off…finally. Instead, the bear whimpers and runs off, signaling Ijiro that a zombie is approaching. Believing this is a sign from the gods (obviously), Ijiro accepts his new purpose and starts killing any zombie which wanders into the park.
During the interview he states that when he heard them coming, he would mediate until they were close, bow and thank them for alerting him to their presence, and then proceed to open a can of whoop ass. He learns to cut them in the brain, and becomes proficient at doing so without getting their fluids on him (though he states that earlier engagements are “messy”). After a while others join him – conveniently with swords – and they form a permanent part of the Japanese defense force. When asked by the interviewer how many zombies he killed in by himself during one bout, Ijiro thinks for a moment and answers…47. He then adds that he buried every last one of them.
Getting Serious for a Second
Per usual, I always see the “greater story” in all stories; it was the same in World War Z and while there were other applications I found throughout the tale, one in particular stood out to me.
During another interview, an Air Force pilot recounts when she was downed somewhere near New Orleans. During her trek to the pick-up point, she passes an SUV in the swamp full of enough supplies, tools, and weapons to last for years. The driver is dead with a self-inflicted bullet wound. The man had given up before he had even started.
In survival stories, the survivor is a person who accepts his/her situation and moves forward. The dead person regrets and questions how the situation could have happened to them. In life there are “outs” we can take to make the experience easier on ourselves. The mind creates a sense of panic, and we alter our perception of the problem in order to make it larger and insurmountable. We don’t accept the present situation and instead lament its existence. At that point, we quit.
This truth is easily applied to faith, as we are continually inundated with temptation and pushed to make choices that fly in the face of our Savior. We turn our problems into mountains that are insurmountable, and we ask others to hold us accountable for the mountain we never begin to climb. This becomes a cycle which causes us to remain in the same spiritual place, emphasizing sin over redemption, and creating a burden of shame. How different would it be if we accepted our position, accepted the Grace extended with the understanding God is glorified in all things (no, I’m not telling you to go out and sin to glorify God…read Romans 6) and that we are forgiven? I would venture to say that it would be quite different.
Rating: READ THIS
I know most dudes these days don’t read much. Maybe they don’t read because they are trying to read the wrong things (Karen Kingsbury anyone?). Whatever it is, buy this book and get into it. It’s short, practical, logical, and very well written. Kudos to you if you listen to the award-winning audiobook…that sucker is INCREDIBLE.